In reality, there is hardly a painless way to remove any individual from his or her employment. We are certain that the present retrenchment exercise being carried out across the public service is causing Prime Minister Mia Mottley significant grief. Undoubtedly, as she has stated, she would have preferred to have a prevailing economic situation where such an exercise is totally unnecessary.
It is no secret that the public service over the years has been heavily padded and overstaffed. But wise Governments in a democracy where votes are their lifeblood are loathed to admit this and even more reluctant to place members of the populace on the breadline. But the Mottley Government is prostrate over an International Monetary Fund barrel and is being forced – as part of its austerity programme – to retrench and to do so heavily. There is no painless way to do this and those being sent home are faced with the realization that their financial commitments must still be met and that severance received will last only so long. And, in an already contracted private sector, opportunities for employment will not be initially substantial. Creative ways of self-employment and entrepreneurship will have to become a new option for many.
It is in such circumstances that it must be appreciated that productivity is paramount and that one’s history of persistent uncertified sick leave, certified sick leave, lateness, absenteeism, two and three-hour lunch breaks, failure to complete assigned duties, and a range of other employment infelicities, often return to haunt employees in economic situations such as what currently prevails in Barbados. Moaning and groaning about lost jobs will not help our situation. Politicizing the process – as much as it might be warranted – will also neither help individual circumstances nor serve to halt the austerity measures. Barbadians must come to the realization that the retrenchment programme is a done deal. We will soon come to the realization that this is also not the end of it. Though the number 1 500 has been bandied about as those who will be retrenched, it seems inevitable that the Government will travel this same road again, sooner more than later.
The trade union movement in Barbados has been a disaster in this process with neither the National Union of Public Workers nor the Barbados Workers Union particularly covering themselves in glory in how they have gone about representing workers whose dues they collect monthly. Indeed, we expect significant fall-out from this retrenchment exercise where membership of both these unions are concerned. Those who have been retrenched will understandably see no reason to be unionized and those still with jobs will question the potency of their representation under the current political dispensation. The vocal support of workers in Barbados from the unions has dropped by significant decibels since May 24. It is as though the trade union movement has become emaciated. While the top brass squabbles over the use of credit cards and the spending of thousands of dollars, some of the members are probably querying if there is any fund within these organizations from which they can draw in this their darkest hour.
But though we appreciate that this shedding of weight in the public service was inevitable and that there is no easy way of ending anyone’s employment, the process should nevertheless be handled with as much sensitivity as possible. The process of informing workers of their retrenchment, the alacrity of paying severance and the procedure of determining who goes and who stays must be carried out transparently and in a dignified manner.
And while Government looks to shed weight in the public sector it must be prepared to be creative in identifying where best to cut and where best to shift resources. The retrenchment of civilian clerical officers within the Royal Barbados Police Force, which could lead to police officers fulfilling those roles, is an area that has been recently highlighted. Ideally, one does not want police officers performing clerical duties but such has been going on for decades. Police perform clerical duties as part of their official “policing”. It is high time if the numbers within the force are to better utilized that consideration is given to deploying members of the Barbados Defence Force to do guard duties at places such as Government House and relieve police officers of this age-old responsibility. Government is already looking at where it can amalgamate certain departments as part of the austerity programme. Within such a context it is basically anachronistic to see police officers in cork hats performing ceremonial guard duties at an often empty Government House. Perhaps, Government could see the prudence of relieving police officers of similar duties at Illaro Court and make use of the Barbados Defence Force – an entity that still raises questions as to its relevance in this environment.
There is much goodwill, still, towards Prime Minister Mia Mottley. Her willingness to engage the public, her hands-on approach, her disinclination towards hibernation akin to her predecessor, are all ingredients of leadership to which Barbadians gravitate. These are excellent optics that Miss Mottley understands well. Perhaps, her tour de force would be to extend the ongoing public service cuts to her Cabinet and multitude of consultants. Such an act would bring solidity to the words emanating from her mouth about the retrenchment process.